Arguably, during the 2010 season, the Renault team was misnamed. A Luxembourg-based investment group called Genii Capitial purchased a 75% or 80% (depending on which reports you believe) stake in the team, making Renault the minority stakeholder. Logically, the team might have been rebranded Genii Racing, or something along those lines. Apparently El Supremo Bernie Ecclestone was against that, however, as the sport had seen a noticeable exodus of manufacturers in previous years. Bernie wasn’t keen to lose another, so he persuaded the good folks at Genii and Renault not to change the team’s brand.
This year, the team will have a more serious identity crisis. Renault has finally confirmed their long range F1 plans, which have more to do with engine production than chassis development and team management., and accordingly, they’ve sold their remaining stake in the team to Proton, the company that also owns Group Lotus. As a result that next year the team will be rebranded Lotus Renault GP. Renault will be the engine supplier, but will not have an equity stake in the team.
But wait, there’s more. You’ll recall that one of this year’s rookie teams on the F1 grid was Lotus Racing. This is an entirely separate team that, coincidentally, will also be running Renault engines next year. Will there a relationship between the two teams? Yes and no. Lotus Racing is owned by an investment consortium, including Proton, that has controversially licensed the Lotus brand to the team now known as Lotus Racing. Whether Lotus Racing will continue to operate under that nomenclature has been brought into question. Lotus Group contends that Lotus Racing has actually violated the terms of the license, and the matter was recently adjudicated. Theoretically, the license has been revoked. Nevertheless, Lotus Racing contends that they will take to the grid next year with the Lotus brand intact.
Net result: two teams will take to the grid bearing the iconic Lotus brand next year, both powered by Renault power plants, and both owned in part by Proton. In the end, of course, the brand has very little to do with the actual team. The original Lotus was the creation of the brilliant Colin Chapman, who ran the team during its glory years when Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt abnd Mario Andretti all won world titles. After Chapman died, the team began a long slide down a slippery slope. Chapman died in 1982, and in 1986 the Lotus holding company was sold to General Motors. GM, in turn, sold the company in 1993 to a company controlled by the owner of the Bugatti car company. The company again changed hands in 1996, with the Malaysian car company, Proton, acquiring a majority stake.
Confusing? The lawyers for all concerned must be having a field day. If you like playing the Six Degrees of Separation game, it won’t be much of a stretch to draw a line that connects Michael Schumacher (who won two titles with Benetton, which was later sold to Renault, now Lotus-Renault) to the aforementioned Lotus champs from the sixties and seventies, and on to Schumi’s own idol, Ayrton Senna, who was a Lotus pilot during the mid-eighties. (Note on Senna: the car was a dog when the great Brazilian drove it, and yet he managed to win six races in three seasons, along with 17 poles.)
Incidentally, the newly branded Lotus-Renault GP will abandon Renault’s traditional yellow and black livery in favor of the black and gold livery used during the seventies and eighties when the team’s title sponsor was John Player, and the engine supplier, for a time, was Renault.